Calgary

Commemorative locomotives transported undercover into Canada for big reveal

Five locomotives transported across the U.S. border into Canada, wrapped and hidden, sparked curiosity within the train buff community.

5 locomotives transported across the U.S. border into Canada, wrapped and hidden, sparked curiosity

Rail fans eagerly watched as veiled locomotives were transported across the United States border back into Canada. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Five locomotives transported across the U.S. border into Canada, wrapped and hidden, sparked curiosity within the train buff community.

For a whole week, people were left guessing — until Remembrance Day, shortly after a moment of silence.

Rory Thompson, manager of Veteran Relations with Canadian Pacific, said some figured it out but he and the rest of the team involved had to keep zipped tight about the surprise.

Canadian Pacific locomotives are hitting the railways dressed in military colours to honour veterans. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"CP has a rich history with the military that dates all the way back to the Boer War into the First and Second World War," he said. "It's our way of showing our respect, and also showing the public and our employees that we respect the sacrifices made over the years." 

The locomotives were painted to represent different aspects of military service, on the ground, in the water and up in the sky — after CP personnel researched the design and colours used by the various military branches and got to work.

One locomotive was painted in NATO green, then Desert Sand with black markings, RCN Shipside Grey with a red underbelly, RAF Dark Green with Spitfire accents and finally in sky camouflage.

Thompson's favourite is the 7020 painted dark army green — he's partial to it because of his military background.

"I think it looks pretty mean, to be honest," he says. 

CP bills itself as a military-friendly employer, with a tailored application process for veterans. And on Remembrance Day, the company honours 33,000 employees who served in the last century's two world wars, along with those who serve today with a service at their headquarters in Calgary.

There, and across the continent, train operators sound whistles at 11:01 to mark a moment of silence. 

One of the five locomotives was painted to represent Afghanistan military operations. (Helen Pike/CBC)

This year, when the moment of silence was over, hundreds of people filed through the yard to take photos of the unique locomotives.

There were veterans and train fans alike.

Ken Ruller is a 40-year veteran and says he's served worldwide — he's also a train fan. He says this kind of commemoration is great, and he loves it.

"When you look at that and how beautifully they are painted, they're brand new and they're about to go out into the CP rail lines," Ruller said. "They're going to spread good recognition, but they're probably going to get muddy after some time." 

Ruller says his family has a history of working for the railway, and he remembers taking Canadian Pacific passenger cars as a kid.

"That kind of clattering of the trains that go by and to hear the whistle as you go by the stops," he said. "It's always had kind of a little haunting memorable experience for me."

Jason Sailer came with his daughter Kayla, he's part of the local rail-fan community. He followed the mysterious trains online as they crossed the border into Canada.

"Seeing these big covered you know, locomotives on the train — I was kind of warning what their purpose or what the end result was," Sailer said. "It was a good surprise for the veterans and everything too you know, the ones that work with CP and the other ones that served across Canada."

It's hard to quantify how much impact you're going to have — just showing somebody that we remember you. And this is going to be going for years.- Travis McLean

Travis McLean is a retired Master Seaman Submariner — now he works for CP. The first thing he did when he saw the locomotives was facetime a friend back in Victoria.

"I think it kind of resonates with a lot of people," McLean said. "I think it's hard to quantify how much impact you're going to have — just showing somebody that we remember you. And this is going to be going for years."

Now that the locomotives have had their 15 minutes of fame, they will spend the week in Calgary before being put into regular rotation — travelling across the country and border into the United States just like their fire-red counterparts.

About the Author

Helen Pike

Reporter

Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist focusing on urban issues and municipal affairs. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.

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